Doug* – an anguished 46 year old husband and father – sat on the edge of his chair in my office almost wringing his hands.
“What have I really done with my life? I can’t believe I’m 46! What do I really get from and give to my wife and children, and my friends and work colleagues? What is the meaning of my life? What has happened to the dreams I once had as a younger man, the promise of fulfillment I once sensed welling up in me?”
As a 54 year old therapist I knew intimately of the anguish and doubts he was experiencing. I had been where he was not so long before …
The midlife transition approximately covers the age span of 40-50 years, although it can begin earlier or end later. For many men this can be a time of great inner turmoil, a time of deep and profound questioning.
A Time of Disillusionment?
It can be a time of disillusionment – the dreams and fantasies of youth are often revealed to be exactly that.
The enthusiastic questioning of the adolescent self is replaced by the despairing, disillusioned questioning of the man whose dreams have either not been realised or, in realisation do not satisfy as anticipated.
The midlife man reviews his life in the encroaching shadow of the frightening, brooding presence of death. Mortality looms as a tangible, cold presence felt in his bones, in his dreams, in the marrow of his being. Death is no longer an abstract possibility as it was when he was a younger man. This can be a shattering experience, shattering his dreams, hopes and plans. It is the time when depression often strikes.
And so the midlife male is forced to discover new meanings, new challenges and to reinvent himself.
It is only as he faces the seemingly annihilating forces of mortality and disillusionment, that he will be able to discover new life structures. To the extent that he refuses the challenge, will determine the degree of negativity and constriction accompanying him into the next phase of life.
Some men never recover from the crushing defeat they experience in this transition, and may enter a decline from which escape is very difficult.
The 3 Tasks of the Midlife Male
Three major tasks are required of a man as he lurches through this phase.
Firstly, to bring to a close the era of earlier adulthood, which entails reviewing his chosen life path thus far – going off in a completely different direction often happens.
Secondly, he begins to take his first steps toward the initiation of the next life stage which involves the building of a more meaningful life.
Thirdly, he must wrestle with a series of polarities that are the source of great divisions and contradictions in his life.
If you feel that you can relate to some of the anguished questioning that was tormenting Doug, and appreciate my brief summary of what is going on in the midlife transition, I would be happy to meet with you and assist you to negotiate this very difficult territory.
Author: Matthew Ryan, B Psych (Hons), MA (Marriage & Family Therapy).
Matt Ryan is a senior psychologist with over 25 years of experience, with a keen interest in helping men of all ages to negotiate the various challenges of life and relationships.
To book an appointment with Matthew Ryan call 1800 877 924 or book online today!
*Not real name